Exploring the Craft of Digital Writing, Grades 2–8
A Complimentary Webinar with Dr. Troy Hicks and the Center for the Collaborative Classroom.
Join us for an hour of inspiration and learning with Dr. Troy Hicks as he leads us in an exploration of the craft of digital writing. More and more, our students encounter a daily dose of digital texts, ranging from websites to social-media messages, from class assignments to YouTube videos. As they encounter these texts, what are the strategies that they need to be close, critical readers and viewers? Moreover, as students craft their own digital writing, what do they need to be able to do as writers, producers, and designers? Join Dr. Troy Hicks as he shares insights about the craft of digital writing and its implications for our students, grades 2–8.
Please note: This webinar will be recorded. If you are unable to attend the live session, register to receive a link to the recorded webinar. The recording will be made available 5–7 business days after the live session.
During the month of May, my friend and Chippewa River Writing Project colleague Beth Gates has been working with her 11th grade students on a digital writing assignment. Many years ago, she began teaching a digital essay based on an idea from Jim Burke and shared on the English Companion Ning. I featured Beth’s work — as well as that of her students — in my book, Crafting Digital Writing and you can find two sample essays that her students created as an analysis of Death of a Salesman on the companion wiki.
This year, Beth has worked to develop an extensive assignment that leads students, first, though a MMAPS planning document that will help them identify their audience, purpose, and specific uses of media. She then asks them to identify a mentor text and to complete a Google Form that will help them see different traits in the digital writing they are analyzing. She has also created a rubric for the entire project that features categories such as genre, audience, purpose, structure, structure, digital elements, and conventions.
One of the challenges that Beth’s work is trying to address involves quantifying the work her students need to do. Through an email exchange earlier this spring, we discussed some of the potential areas that she could have her students focus upon including the balance between written words, embedded features that utilize existing resources, and additional media that she would ask students to create. Here are some components of the assignment worth noting:
Minimum 500 words in the form of written, alphabetic text. This writing will take
the form of actual sentences and paragraphs.
Minimum of 10 innovative features (created by you or copy/pasted from sources) including hyperlinks, multimedia links, embedded notes, discussion platforms, definition links, text-to-speak options, additional search extensions, infographics, images, sound, video clips, and other interactive elements.
Students would also need to create an additional piece of digital writing. This can take one of three forms:
Option 1: Using digital audio or video, you can prepare a script and record a radio-style story, an interview, a digital story, or other audio/video mode.
Option 2: Using at least 3 of your own original drawings or photos, you can use digital imaging tools such as Photoshop to manipulate these images and present them with your written text.
Option 3: Using a tool such as Piktochart or Infogr.am, you can create an infographic which includes an analysis of numerical data.
Beth’s work to design this assignment as one that is academically rigorous and still personally meaningful for students is laudable. In fact, I really appreciate the way that she built in the distinction for students surrounding “innovative features” (essentially linking to someone else’s work or asking for audience interaction, both reasonable expectations of digital writing) and also asking students to create an additional piece of digital writing in the form of audio/video, image, or infographic. More than just copying someone else’s work (or linking to it) or asking their peers to respond to that work, Beth is having her students compose digital writing that moves beyond alphabetic text, and to do so in an academically appropriate manner.
My one concern — and I recognize that this comes straight from my position in the ivory tower — is that asking students to quantify everything in their digital writing leads down a slippery slope. As Kristen Turner and I have argued in “No Longer a Luxury: Digital Literacy Can’t Wait,”
Setting a minimum number of slides, images, transitions, links, or other digital elements in student projects does little to improve digital literacy. In much the same way that some of the most reductive writing pedagogy has created patterns (five paragraphs of five sentences each, for instance), we now see similar trends happening with slide shows, websites, digital stories, and other types of digital writing projects. Rather than focusing on content—and developing an appropriate message—the assignments focus on the most basic elements of form: the things that can be counted. (60)
So, on the surface, it would appear that I would not be in favor of Beth’s assignment design. After all, she is counting words and innovative features.
Still, I recognize the dilemma that she is — and all K-12 teachers are — in as we shift into data-driven decision making in schools. We have to count something.
In this case, then, I can see what Beth is doing as a step (or two, or ten) in the right direction because she isn’t just handing students an assignment sheet and asking them to write 500 words and include 10 innovative features and then to make a podcast, photo essay, or infographic. She is scaffolding them through the entire process. Here is a description of her month-long unit that she shared with me:
April 27-28: Writing Notebook work on Writing Territories, short writes, topics, and playing with ideas.
April 29: Introduce the MMAPSS and model it
May 2-3: Students work individually on their own MMAPSS Planning Guide (Due May 3)
May 4: Students commit to a topic, genre, purpose, and audience. They use remaining time to explore different Media ideas (see MMAPSS)
May 5-6: Introduce and model a mentor text study using two different genres–share student projects from previous years
May 9-13: Students must complete 4-6 Mentor Text Study Sheets (differing number because of team-taught kids). Due on Monday, May 16
May 16-18: Writing a rough draft. Individual conferences with all students at least 1-2 times (some more).
May 19: Introduce digital elements as (1) Required–reader needs for comprehension, think of like a footnote; (2) Extended–reader has the option to delve deeper into the topic or idea through additional information or ideas on the topic; (3) Optional–author considers the needs of an unintended audience or a small segment of the audience. This wouldn’t be needed for most.
May 20: Peer to peer and teacher to student conferencing (with a few to finish on Monday)
May 23: Introduce bibliography vs. Work Cited and tools such as Easybib, Knight Cite, Citation Machine, etc.
May 24-May 27: Continue revision and conferencing with students. Final Product due on May 27
While she is still in the process of having students submit their final products, she has shared some of the MMAPS planning guides from a number of students: Lauren, Noah, Adrienne, Gabe, Mattie, Kyle. Their choices in mode/genre range from informational texts to fantasy stories, and they will use a variety of media including blogs, websites, and existing fan fiction sites. Their critical, careful evaluation of audience, purpose, and situation suggests that they will, indeed, craft very effective pieces of digital writing.
All in all, I appreciate Beth’s work with her students and recognize the pinch that she is in, both needing to demonstrate connections to standards and also making assessment manageable. I will be curious to see how her students’ work turns out and to continue reflecting on the project with her in the weeks ahead. In the mean time, the assignment resources she provides on her wiki page are robust and will provide us all with plenty to read as we think about designing our own digital writing tasks.
For anyone that has read this blog, seen my guest post on the Heinemann website, or heard me speak in the past few months, you know that I am becoming more and more intrigued with Mozilla’s Popcorn as a digital writing tool. Last week, my students in ENG 201 started playing around with Popcorn as one possible tool for creating their final, multimedia projects.
Before I share this example from one of my students, Cali Winslow, I wanted to note just a few quick notes about helping guide students to this point of the semester.
First, I have been fortunate enough to teach and honors section this semester. While most times I teach English 201 I am focused in on various forms of academic writing, and especially on the techniques of argument, this particular semester has been interesting because I am guiding students, as freshmen, to think about what they want to do for their senior honors capstone research project. As a part of this work, students will be submitting what I’m calling a “very rough draft” of what they would like to do as a senior honors project proposal.
Second, because we’ve been talking about digital writing throughout the semester, I am asking them to share their final presentation not just as a PowerPoint, but in some kind of multimedia form. Over the past few weeks we have begun looking at a number of different tools, and Popcorn is one of them. My hope is that the few students will use this tool for their final projects, especially since I have so many students interested in topics related to media.
All of this is a lead up to what I found to be a truly wonderful project. Mind you, this was meant as an opportunity for play and exploration, a formative assessment opportunity just to see what students could come up with in a limited amount of time. My guess is that Cali spent much more than just a “few extra minutes” outside of class to get this creative representation of her many “fandoms.” In fact, she noted in her reflection, there are many things to consider when embarking on such a project:
This project revealed some important benefits and drawbacks of using multimedia presentations. One clear benefit is that, if executed properly, it can provide a concise, engaging presentation related to the topic. A one-minute video can be much more compelling than a page of text presenting the same information. It also allows the author to be more creative in how they present their message, which can draw a wider audience. As with any media, however, there are some limitations. The biggest problem, in my presentation, was due to technological issues. As I mentioned, I had five tracks that were all timed precisely to fit with one another. Several times I tried to play them back and one would glitch and become out-of-sync with the others, which in some cases, even somewhat changed the message I was trying to get across (some of you may also have had this problem if you tried watching my video).
This is one of those projects where a student clearly went above and beyond, and I think you’ll find the final results to be compelling and creative. If this is what she was able to create just playing around with Popcorn for fun, I can’t wait to see what she — and all of my students — with their final projects.
“We have an opportunity to help this generation define itself on its own terms. The question is no longer whether or not we should use technology to teach writing; instead we must focus on the many ways that we can use technology to teach writing.”
Written for teachers of writing by a teacher of writing, Crafting Digital Writing is both an introduction for teachers new to digital writing and a menu of ideas for those who are tech-savvy. Troy Hicks explores the questions of how to teach digital writing by examining author’s craft, demonstrating how intentional thinking about author’s craft in digital texts engages students in writing that is grounded in their digital lives.
Troy draws on his experience as a teacher, professor, and National Writing Project site director to show how the heart of digital composition is strong writing, whether it results in a presentation, a paper, or a video. Throughout the book, Troy offers:
in-depth guidance for helping students to compose web texts (such as blogs and wikis), presentations, audio, video, and social media
mentor texts that give you a snapshot into what professionals and students are doing right now to craft digital writing
suggestions for using each type of digital text to address the narrative, informational, and argument text types identified in the Common Core State Standards
One last post here on digital mentor texts for the week, with some time to read and reflect planned for the weekend.
I have to admit, my original plan to end the week was an “oldie, but goodie” (we can we consider 2007 “old,” at least in YouTube terms, right?): The Machine is Us/ing Us by Michael Wesch. It’s still worth a watch, for sure, and maybe I will use it to frame my reflection on this process of writing and thinking about digital mentor texts.
For now, I want to share one in a series of videos that I hadn’t seen before this week. Thanks to Ryan Rish for sharing a link to the “Feminist Frequency” series of videos created by Anita Sarkeesian. Ryan tweeted a link to the first of Anita’s videos in the “Tropes vs. Women” series, and that led me to the FF website, where there are many, many more of Anita’s videos. I watched a few, very much enjoying Anita’s critical, feminist reading of popular culture. She doesn’t hold back in her commentary — either with the critique or the humor — and some of the videos wouldn’t work well in middle, or in some instances, even high school classrooms.
That said, here is one that I think would fit a broader audience, and there are quite a few points/questions about digital writing that can be made from this mentor text.
Besides the topic itself — the gendered way in which television advertisements for toys position our sons and daughters — the video itself helps me think about a number of issues:
First and foremost, how Anita employs techniques from and pushes against the styles of the typical format of television news and Hollywood style talk shows. What are the moves that she makes — as a newscaster, as a producer, as a video editor splicing together elements from commercials — that make this an effective digital mentor text?
In her framing of ads for boys vs. girls, Anita talks about how boys are able to “make” or “construct” things, and how that is the foundation for creativity and a fulfilling adult life. She then juxtaposes that analysis with comments on the girls’ commercials, ones that she describes as __. However, the girls are making something, albeit snow, hairstyles, cupcakes and the like. Yet, one could argue that the boys’ act of “making” — following the directions to build a Lego set, for instance — is actually conformist, not creative. This could make for an interesting discussion in, you guessed it, a student-produced video essay/response.
Clearly, and without hesitation, Anita has an agenda is these videos. From the logical sequence of the segments to her word choice and tone of voice — “How fun!” with a sarcastic tone and giddy shrug of the shoulders — she makes her concerns known. This is both a strength of these videos (making them emotionally engaging and compelling to view) and a weakness, in that there is no viable counter-argument.
That said, the argument that she makes is persuasive, relying on ethos (her appeal to authority, in that she is certainly knowledgable, and has taken considerable time to produce the video), pathos (her appeal to the audience’s emotions, in that she is a passionate speaker and picks pertinent examples), and logos (her appeal to logic, in that she uses both actual examples of commercials aimed at children and statistics from the advertising industry to back up her claims).
She also extends her argument to the video game and technology industry, not just television commercials.
She makes a strong claim, too, towards the end: All advertising towards young people needs to stop, no exceptions.
Finally, there are significant issues surrounding copyright and fair use — because she uses so many clips from popular media — and she includes a disclaimer at the end of each video describing how she meets the standards for fair use. As an example of how someone can employ copyrighted materials in service of commentary and critique, Anita’s work provides a great example, even though she has suffered take down notices, too.
All that said, Anita’s work with Feminist Frequency is amazing, and leads me to think about how we could also invite students to do feminist critiques of Disney films or other pop culture icons. That would provide better fodder for a persuasive essay or research paper than the old stand-bys of school lunches, uniforms, and vacation lengths.
And, with this being my last official entry in the digital mentor text series, I want to send a hearty thanks to my colleagues, Bill, Katie, Kevin, Tony and, especially Franki, for inspiring us to do the series. I have many posts to read, review, and reflect upon, and I have appreciated having some company this week in the edublogosphere.
As we continue to look at professionally produced videos as digital mentor texts, the fifth video genre that I want to explore is what I would, for lack of better term, call “infotainment with a creative twist.” I mean this less in the sense of “soft journalism,” as described in this Wikipedia entry, and more in the sense of information presented in a creative manner that — while not exclusive to the internet — is powerfully enabled by distribution on the internet.
For instance, the often-humorous, yet clearly-written and produced “Common Craft” videos offer overviews of many technology-related topics, all “in plain English.” I use them all the time in workshops and courses.
Another slightly different (and more “live action”) take on the genre has been made popular by sites like eHow, which also uses videos, and who knows how many individual examples of how-to videos on YouTube and other video sharing sites. In short, people can make videos about how to make stuff, or do stuff, and they keep on making those videos.
As an exercise in visual literacy, then, I wonder how we can use RSA Animate — “scribing” ideas as they are spoken to create a visual synthesis — as a digital mentor text for students. Some possible questions:
As you view the video, note which concepts are drawn and which are printed as text. Why would the scribe make that choice for each of the different ideas?
What are the drawings representative of? Are they meant to be literal or symbolic? How is the main speaker represented?
There is very minimal use of color in the video, so what does the use of color say about the importance of ideas? What is emphasized through the use of color?
When the scribe chooses to write words that are not spoken (for instance, at about the :54 second mark when writing, in a speech balloon, “I know where I am from”), what meaning does that add to the spoken text and the visual synthesis as a whole?
At about 1:15, notice the animation of the baton and the hearts. How does this contribute to/detract from the “scribing” approach that has been used up to that point in the film?
At about 2:23, notice how the scribe changes one of the existing characters in the scene. How does this approach work as compared to drawing an entirely new character?
From about 3:40 to 5:50, the scribe draws a map, most likely one similar to what the speaker used in his actual talk. How does the scribe’s representation of (and additions to) the map accentuate the speaker’s point in ways that he may not have been able to do himself in the live speech?
The editing of the actual speech from about 9:10 to 9:46 leaves out the subsequent statistics from the speaker’s talk and the scribe does not write them down and, at about 9:50, begins making a claim about the results. What are the challenges in making meaning from this?
At the very end of the video, what effect does the camera panning back and out on the entire visual synthesis have for you as a viewer? Would a different panning/zooming strategy have been more effective for you?
Also, we can consider stop motion, as Kevin and others in our series this week have shared. Punya Mishra, for instance, has worked with his own children to create a wonderful series of stop-motion videos highlighting ideas about creativity. This led to a series of stop motion videos we produced this summer in MSU’s MAET program, too, as well as this one that I did with my own children. Although these videos do not rely on narration, specifically the type of natural speaking that occurs in the RSA lectures, they do require digital writers to think carefully about the story being told. With the right kinds of questions from a thoughtful teacher, those decisions can be seeds for great discussions about the storytelling process.
Finally, when thinking about the possibilities for creating videos, I also wonder how we might invite students to construct infographics and, via screencasting, capture their thoughts. Almost like a kinetic type construction of an infographic. Hmm…
I hope to get one more digital mentor text tomorrow and, over the weekend, some reflections on what I have read from everyone else’s posts this week.